A Sesame Street Christmas Carol (2006)

This is one of those things that both is and is not an adaptation of A Christmas Carol. Specifically, it falls within the sub-sub-sub-genre where the idea is used to establish a frame story justifying the use of loosely connected clips to repackage old material as a new special. Only this time it's Sesame Street doing it, so it's kind of good.

I assume it goes without saying that the Scrooge analog here is Oscar the Grouch. There's a bit of narration courtesy of Tim Curry (who voiced Scrooge himself in a 1997 animated movie) establishing the setting, though Curry immediately bows out until the very end. We don't get much setup at all: there's no Cratchit, Tiny Tim, or Fred analogs, nor does Oscar actually do anything more aggressive than hanging a sign on his can demanding not to be bothered until after the holidays.

But Joe Marley, who works for a ghost-related delivery service, shows up to deliver the first of three ghost-o-grams (an antique can of beans) along with instructions to invoke the spirit inside. Said ghost turns out to be Rhubarb the Grouch, a ghost from Victorian England who Oscar immediately takes a liking to. It helps that, despite his current gig, Rhubarb seems to share Oscar's sentiments when it comes to friends, family, and associated holiday customs.

Rhubarb then cues up a couple clips from Sesame Street's past. First, he shows Oscar "The Gift of the Magi" section from Christmas Eve on Sesame Street, followed by Big Bird lamenting being away from Snuffleupagus during Elmo Saves Christmas. When these are finished, both Oscar and Rhubarb laugh at the clips - Oscar hasn't yet changed.

The next ghost isn't so much to Oscar's liking. "Christmas Carole" is a sort of composite Christmas tree, Jack-in-the-box, and lamp. She's full of holiday cheer and uses her magic to decorate Oscar's home, which he hates. Then she subjects him to several more clips. The first of which is from Elmo's World: Happy Holidays!, which astonishingly we haven't gotten to yet. It's a clip of Elmo going to see Santa to ask for a gift for his pet goldfish, Dorothy. Santa sings a song - it's fine.

Next up is a short song from Elmo Saves Christmas, in which Elmo laments asking for Christmas to occur every day. Then it's back to clips from Elmo's World, this time from live-action segments explaining Hanukkah and Kwanza. We then toggle back once more to Elmo Saves Christmas for a rendition of "Keep Christmas With You" (a song originally from Christmas Eve on Sesame Street, just to make matters more confusing) that ends with Big Bird reuniting with Snuffleupagus.

The last spirit is named, "i-Sam.", and he's a robot ghost. Or a ghost robot - I'm not entirely sure which. At any rate, he's actually got some new material, presumably because the HBO Max contract they were fated to sign nine years later prevents them from importing footage from the future. This is an animated short in the vein of The Jetsons ostensibly about how Christmas will be celebrated in the future. It's all ridiculously absurd and quite possibly anti-educational, in that the cartoonish future depicted is just nonsense.

Needless to say, I liked this section quite a bit.

Once i-Sam malfunctions, Oscar hides in his can. We see him wake up the next day, ambiguously implying the whole thing was a dream. He sees Joe from the night before, but now his last name is "Dickens," he lives in Brooklyn, and he seems to have no idea what Oscar's talking about. He does, however, gift Oscar a wad of used wrapping paper, which Oscar gladly accepts. Oscar then realizes there are things about Christmas he likes: the trash, the fact the snow is turning to grey mush, and - most importantly - the fact it's about to be over. Feeling generous, he gives Joe a gift, as well: an old, rotting shoe that smells awful. Then he returns to his can, feeling a little nicer but ultimately not changing his outlook at all.

And God bless them for that. A Christmas Carol is, at heart, a story about Christmas serving as a catalyst for embracing a message of social responsibility and progressive change. If you're not going to do that (which would be a pretty tall order for a show aimed at preschoolers), the thing you shouldn't do is water the story down to one of a Christmas cynic being pressured into liking the holidays. The vast majority of homages made for kids do just that, and it's frankly an awful message, as it implies there's something wrong with people who don't celebrate. This subverts that in a few ways: it highlights other winter holidays in a way that validates their importance, it doesn't imply Oscar needs to change his outlook, and - in a more subtle way - it portrays the second and thirds ghosts as kind of obnoxious in the way they push the holiday on him. Meanwhile, the first ghost and Oscar had a great time laughing at the whole thing, and the narrative never really implies there's anything wrong with this.

Aside from the fact more than half of this is recycled material, my only real complaint is the ghosts are all CG creations. I know these sorts of things play a role on modern Sesame Street, but they're just nowhere near as endearing as the felt Muppets, who are - as always - just delightful. Speaking of delightful, the Gift of the Magi segment from Christmas Eve on Sesame Street is still an absolute joy to watch. Just hilarious, through and through.

That said, it's hard to seriously recommend this, only because you're really better off tracking down the original specials. This is a good clip show, as far as those go, and I really love the fact Oscar isn't treated like a monster for not liking Christmas (I mean, okay, he's literally a monster, but you know what I mean). The new stuff is good, but there's not quite enough to actually make this feel like a full special in its own right.